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Perspective: Wake up and appreciate the manhole covers

A DeKalb manhole cover, although not the work of Jon "The Toad" Lawrence.
Austin Cliffe
A DeKalb manhole cover, although not the work of Jon "The Toad" Lawrence.

Sometimes little things in life teach big lessons. Little obscure things ... like manhole covers.

Let me tell you about this creative, crazy guy from my college days.

He was a cartoonist for the NIU campus paper and a photographer for the yearbook.

We called him the Toad, perhaps because of the croaking noise he made when entering a room. I see it as an honorary title attached to his proper name, Jon Lawrence.

I was thinking about Jon and his photos recently. Photos of manhole covers showing simply the circle. He mounted them on vertical panels hinged together like a small room divider. I thought it fascinating ... and eye-opening. He cleverly showed the value of paying closer attention to the world around us, including what's underfoot.

I asked Jon, who lives in Australia, about those photos. His response — again — was a message for all.

"The world around us holds so many wonders," he said. "I try to take notice of things from a variety of perspectives. For most adults the world is viewed from a horizontal plane about 1.6 meters above the ground.

“Few people ever consider the creativity that went into the design of these most domestic features beneath our feet. So I started recording the different circular plumbing access ports. In DeKalb alone there were some 30 or more different patterns.

"I still have the 36 manhole photographs. Someday someone will discover them or I will just give them away.

“Such be the musings of an old toad,” he concluded.

I’m Lonny Cain … and that’s my Perspective.

Lonny Cain, a graduate of the journalism program at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, has been in the newspaper business for more than 45 years. He and his wife have three sons. They live in Ottawa, where he was managing editor of the local daily newspaper for 30 years, retiring in December 2014. He continues to be a columnist for The Times in Ottawa and is pursuing other writing projects.